LINCOLN — Nebraska fans hoping to learn UCLA's secrets in turning a 21-3 deficit into a 41-21 rout of their Huskers might feel even more frustrated when they hear the Bruins' collective answer.
There was no need for a scheme change, a new set of plays or massive substitutions.
The Bruins simply needed to take a deep breath, reset and relax.
Bruins head coach Jim Mora said the emotional roller coaster that players and coaches rode through the week following the Sept. 8 death of wide receiver Nick Pasquale was rough.
“I felt that the first quarter and a half of the game we were trying so hard to make something happen good that we were tight,” Mora said. “What really happened was in the second quarter there at the end we kind of relaxed and made plays and we kind of found our rhythm again.”
UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone and several of the Bruins players — including quarterback Brett Hundley — credited Mora with being the calming influence while 91,471 — all but about 3,000 wearing red or black — were doing their best to distract the Bruins.
“Coach Mora walked in there in the last two drives we had the first half,” Mazzone said. “He came in smiling, 'Hey guys, everybody just breathe.' That's how it felt, like we were holding our breath for a quarter and a half.
“He kind of lightened things up for the kids and said, 'Just go out and play and have some fun.' So he got things going there.”
That soothing message brought out the beasts in the Bruins. Even simple things like reinstating the trap play into the game plan worked wonders in the final 30 minutes.
“We just simplified things at halftime and let the guys do what they know how to do,” Mazzone said. “The great thing is that wasn't even in the game plan this week. We just said at halftime, 'Let's try something.' ”
The trap play worked as UCLA linemen moved Nebraska's defenders aside to open holes primarily for running back Jordon James, who gained 73 of his game-high 105 yards in the second half.
“I think all of the running backs started less looking for the big play and just taking yards,” Mazzone said. “Whether it was three yards or four yards instead of always looking for 50-yard runs. When backs look for 50-yard runs every time, they usually end up in minus-5 yard runs.”
James said he didn't even think about that adjustment. He just went out and ran the play that was called.
“We didn't give up and we just kept pushing and pushing the tempo,” James said. “Eventually things started opening up. I just got into more of a rhythm and stayed to our schedule. Whatever play they called, I was just going to run it and do the best I can.”
In the pivotal third quarter, UCLA racked up 236 yards of total offense after picking up 206 on 39 plays in the first half. Once the Bruins found their groove, it was all over for the Huskers. Four touchdowns in a stretch of 8:05 that went into the final minute of the third quarter turned the game from a 21-10 UCLA deficit to a 38-21 advantage.
The first was a 3-yard run by James, and the next three were TD passes from Brett Hundley to a trio of receivers — Shaquell Evans, Phillip Ruhl and Nate Iese. Hundley completed 16 of his 24 passes for 294 yards and those three TDs, and he added 61 yards rushing on 19 carries.
In the third quarter, Hundley completed all eight of his pass attempts.
Hundley said the frenetic pace the Bruins were able to keep in the second half did take its toll on the Nebraska defense. They ran the same number of plays as in the first half — 39 — but those in the final 30 minutes produced 298 yards.
“Brett started to relax and started playing his game and not thinking about eight million things,” Mazzone said. “We just really couldn't find a rhythm, and then we finally found a little rhythm. The faster we play it seems like we're a better offense.”
UCLA also averaged 18.4 yards per completed pass, a stat made possible by a stronger running game in the second half.
“You know what, maybe a little,” Hundley said. “They didn't have a whole lot of time to sub. Especially I noticed from a defensive line standpoint where we run tempos, sometimes we'd catch them before they'd get their calls in.
“I'm sure that added to our success.”
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Video: Postgame analysis with Sam McKewon:
Video: NU coach Bo Pelini at the postgame press conference:
Video: NU's Taylor Martinez at the postgame press conference: